What is oligospermia?
There are varying amounts of sperm in a sample of semen. While doctors cannot pinpoint why these figures vary, healthy ejaculate contains 40-300 million sperm per milliliter. Oligospermia samples contain less than 15 million sperm per milliliter. Between 1-5 million sperm is a severe case of oligospermia, which will require fertility treatment. This condition is not to be confused with azoospermia, when no sperm is present in the semen sample. Various health conditions can cause oligospermia. Some common examples include varicoceles, certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), kidney disease, hormone imbalances, and genetic abnormalities. However, some cases of low sperm count are linked to the following 4 lifestyle factors.
1. Smoking and alcohol use
Partying and socializing lead to smoking and alcohol use. In the moment, these activities can feel great. However, smoking and alcohol have a damaging effect on male fertility. The nicotine and other ingredients in cigarettes can cause oxidative stress and impact the cells responsible for sperm production. Excessive smoking also damages existing sperm. Studies show that smokers have at least 20% fewer sperm than non-smokers. Like smoking, excess alcohol use can be dangerous to fertility. Heavy alcohol use reduces vital hormones needed for sperm production. Alcohol use also leads to erectile dysfunction (ED), diabetes, and other sperm-impacting conditions.
2. Too stressed out
Stress is one of the biggest dangers to health and well-being today. As many as 8 in 10 American adults experience some degree of stress. For men, stress can have a direct impact on sperm health. While doctors can’t pinpoint the exact reason, a good starting point is inflammation caused by excess cortisol. In a stressful situation, the body limits the function of particular body parts to ensure survival. These same fight-or-flight hormones can break down reproductive health over time. Stress can also lead to excess alcohol, smoking, and illicit drug use, affecting sperm count.
Obesity continues to be one of the biggest health problems today. More than 40% of men of reproductive age have a body mass index (BMI) that is too high. Excess weight can damage sperm. In most cases, obese men produce more estrogen than testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), the hormones necessary for sperm production. Obesity also increases the chance of diabetes and other chronic conditions that affect fertility. Getting to a healthy weight before conceiving is a good goal for most men.
4. Poor diet
Men who aren’t suffering from obesity can still have oligospermia thanks to dietary choices. Highly processed foods can contain sugars and estrogen, reducing sperm count. Soy products are also high in estrogen. In addition, excess trans fats, processed meats, and pesticides on foods cause hormonal imbalances, ultimately leading to oligospermia.
How can IVF help?
Some men who struggle with fertility for months or even years may need to undergo IVF. The procedure can take and treat sperm samples, maximizing pregnancy chances. In some cases, the fertility clinic will recommend intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) as an add-on to IVF. One healthy sperm is all that’s necessary to create a healthy embryo. Despite the capabilities of IVF, making lifestyle changes can significantly improve sperm count. The key is removing alcohol and smoking, reducing stress, and achieving weight loss through a healthy diet. These changes, together with IVF, can help men overcome oligospermia.